Palo Alto to test collection of food scraps from homes | January 18, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 18, 2013

Palo Alto to test collection of food scraps from homes

Black garbage bins would be eliminated in zero-waste experiment

by Sue Dremann

Starting in April, some Palo Alto residents will be putting their food scraps out on the curb for pickup by the city's waste-management trucks.

The pilot, residential compost program, unanimously approved by the City Council Monday night, Jan. 14, will add food to the list of items taken away for composting.

The program will last for one year and involve a neighborhood that has yet to be selected by the city's public-works department. If successful, the program could be expanded citywide by 2015.

Currently, the food that people throw out ends up in the landfill. The pilot program will eliminate the black trash carts, and all waste will be placed in either the green, composting bin or the blue recycling bin. Food scraps will need to be bagged, according to staff.

The project's goals are four-pronged: to divert food waste from landfill, thus aiding with the city's Zero Waste goals; save money by eliminating separate garbage collection; reduce the number of garbage-truck trips each week and thus emissions of greenhouse gases; and simplify the sorting of waste for residents, city staff said.

The project was developed out of the council Finance Committee's request to reduce costs to the refuse fund through less-frequent garbage pickup. The collection of food waste and compostable materials is considered the optimal way to reach that goal, staff said. Approximately 6,000 tons of food scraps and food-soiled paper could be diverted from the landfill annually and turned into commercially available compost.

The pilot program will cover approximately 700 homes on a single garbage route. The neighborhood will be selected based on various criteria, including that it is a mix of single-family and multi-family homes.

The green and blue carts would will collected by the city's waste hauler, GreenWaste, once weekly as required by the California State health code, staff said.

Councilwoman Karen Holman on Monday questioned whether people would comply with one of the program's stipulations: bagging items such as foil beverage pouches, diapers, bathroom products such as dental floss and hygiene items, and pet waste. City staff said that, for the most part, residents already comply with that requirement.

Holman said she supports a stronger backyard composting program, which she said the city has not pushed.

The pilot program is consistent with the city's Zero Waste Operational Plan and Climate Protection Plan. Both were adopted in 2007 to provide for the collection and diversion of all compostable material.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by Allen Edwards, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2013 at 10:34 am

So what happens to things that are not recyclable and are not food scraps like styrofoam and milk cartons? Maybe they will just sort that stuff out at the recycling plant. Sounds like a great idea though. Hope the pilot program goes well.

Posted by Jeanie Smith, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:09 am

Pick our neighborhood! Please! Nice mix of single- and multi-family residents... :-)

I LOVE this program--I've seen it in operation in Seattle area and other NW cities, and it works great, and reduces actual "garbage" by AMAZING amounts... Well worth the slight effort it takes for people to adjust to using it...

Woo Hoo! Finally, Palo Alto!

Posted by Judith Wasserman, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:24 am

Please, sign me up!

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm

This is a great idea! Can we implement adding food scraps to the yard waste for the whole city now? And I was not aware of the requirement to bag "landfill items such as foil beverage pouches, diapers, bathroom products such as dental floss and hygiene items, and pet waste" although I do it anyway.

Posted by Mr. BBQ, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Thank Gosh for garbage disposals!

Posted by moi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm

@ Mr. BBQ --

The City of Palo Alto isn't too keen on your using your beloved garbage disposal. And for good reason:

Web Link

I stopped using mine years ago and do not miss it one bit. Try without! (Quieter, too.)

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Please do not select Duveneck-St. Francis neighborhood for the trial. I oppose this plan and see numerous problems.

Posted by Sandy, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I am for the food scraps being in the green can. I also recycle everything I can, but there is still garbage. What are you to do with wood scraps when constructing a new deck? What are you to do with styrafoam, household items (tissue, paper towels) etc.? I feel that there will be some problems with this and that some people will just leave their trash around the neighborhood. We have neighbors whose house is full of garbage and with no garbage cans it is only going to get worse. The plan still needs more thinking through.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Not my area, please.

Bagging refuse before putting in blue can, with what? You have banned plastic bags and propose charging for paper? Does this mean now that we have to start buying bags to throw garbage into before putting it in the trash?

I think I will end up taking my trash to the local park, school, store, or somewhere so that I can just dump it altogether for someone else to bother about - not really, but certainly feel like it.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Depending on the mix of items currently going into the various carts, this change might be counterproductive. Below is an email I sent to Council on this item
Council members:
I urge you to impress upon staff the need to do well-designed measurements and ensure that they are prepared to collect this information before this pilot program begins. The information in the staff report is very vague and mentions only having the _capability_ to do unspecified comparisons.

I missed the most recent presentations of the idea of eliminating the black cart, but in earlier ones, what was presented as "typical" was households putting out all three carts every week. This is not what I observe on my street on the nights before pickup.

Although I am NOT typical, my situation illustrates my concern. I live in a small household and put out the recycling cart only when full, which typically is once every 4-8 weeks. I compost most of my soft yard waste myself and put out only branches, vines,... in my green cart. Since these don't rot, I can wait until I have a full cart and thus I put out that cart only once every 2-8 weeks.

If the black (garbage) cart is eliminated, instead of putting out only that one cart most weeks, I will be forced to put out the remaining two every week. The bulk of my garbage is cat litter, which would now go in the blue (recycling) cart. But I will also need to put out the green (compostable) cart because there is almost always some food waste that I will not put on my own compost pile (insects, scavengers, smell).

I fear that the hoped for savings from not picking up the black carts will be offset by increased pickups of the other two carts and the additional expenses of processing those materials.

Posted by Needananswer, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Dear Council members, Are we going to have a lower utility bill? Please answer this question before proceed. I am very sure that you have no answer to this question. Hope I am wrong!

Posted by Bike Commuter, a resident of Ventura
on Jan 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm

What is important to remember is not how things are changing from our current garbage program but what are the issues in managing waste in the future?

We'll have to negotiate a new landfill contract in the future so minimizing non-compostable, non-recyclable waste may have huge cost savings for the future.

I look forward to trying to get to "zero" waste. Our family of 4 humans and 2 cats hardly fill our minican now! I work hard at NOT BUYING items that are packaged in non-recyclable containers.

Posted by Unhappy Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

In the 18th Century slave women had to wash out their mistresses feminine protection. In the 21st century the rich community of Palo Alto will be forcing poor immigrant women who work at the recycle center to sort through Palo Alto's garbage to pull out women's feminine protection, disposable diapers, animal feces, bandages all items contaminated with bodily fluids, and transfer them for final disposal, this is wrong.

Palo Alto should take responsibility for disposing of these items without forcing those less fortunate to handle contaminated garbage.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Unhappy resident-- that sounds like a perfect job for Peter--- sorting through the stuff at the recycle center. After all, a real environmentalist would not hesitate, for the good the planet

Posted by Patrick Muffler, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm

i would be less skeptical of this proposal if I knew that the City staff had actually inventoried what currently goes into the black carts. It is a lot more than kitchen waste! I suggest that the City staff get some real data by rooting through a statistically significant number of black carts.

Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Jan 17, 2013 at 9:51 am

When a previous issue hit the fan regarding garbage disposal etc, someone asked if the staff dreaming this up lived in Palo Alto. Seems that NOT ONE lived in Palo Alto. I would suspect this same regulation-committee has no elderly parent to care for, no babies, no dogs, no
influenze and colds, live in apartments and don't "compost" or don't want to (that is not a social crime) and it is an all-male household. It is time for this city council to come to grips with the fact that residents are getting increasingly fed up with this 'nanny-state" with big brother at City Hall interfering in our lives. ENOUGH ALREADY!! Fix the @#$% streets. Also
PS Not everybody in this town rides a bicycle and the reportedly the thousands who go through it or into it each day drive cars.

Posted by omg, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 17, 2013 at 10:15 am

We have to lay off those members who DO NOT live in Palo Alto . It's a one big flaw!

Posted by Dan , a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2013 at 11:41 pm

I guess this would be OK. We would just use the blue bin for garbage and won't need to put any minimal effort into sorting recyclable items any more. garbage volume would be the same but the can color would change from black to blue. Can't bag pet waste or other items though because plastic bags are evil and banned in Palo Alto. What a yucky mess and wonderful smell when liquids leak onto the recyclable items. Since they would be picking up less maximum volume per household, I am sure our garbage bill would go down... or maybe it would go up because it always goes up no matter what. The statement will be that due to reduced garbage volumes and the extra cost of sorting the mixed trash stream a rate increase is required. We have properties in a couple other cities and the garbage collection rates are significantly lower in most cities.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I finally get why city of palo alto thinks this is a money saving plan. Because they take away 1/3 of the cans you currently have for garbage. Just sort everything you have in to two remaining blue and green cans.... But that's same amount of garbage in TWO cans instead of three? Residents will quickly call and say "I NEED ANOTHER CAN". And Palo Alto will gladly say "NO PROBLEM!, what size, and that will be an extra $$$ per month for the new can"

Has there been an environmental impact study done on this? It sounds like it introduces quite a bit of new plastic 'bagging' in to the environment. And what happens to recycling that is too dirty and contaminated?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm

This is an absurd feel good plan that makes absolutely no economic or environmental sense for taxpayers and will put us at health risk

1/ the plan will attract all sorts of vermin many of which carry the plague, rabies and toxoplasmosis at the dumping site

2/ the bins on the streets will be a magnet raccoons,rats, coyotes and other scavengers who will soon learn to tip the bins and spread refuses all over the place-attracting other vermin and flies

3/ this is a medieval technology will corresponding severe health risks-never mind the stench of rotting garbage and the infestations of carrion mammals,birds,reptiles and insects

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

@ Unhappy: The staff at the SMaRT station is very much co-ed. And they are represented and paid union scale + benefits.

The SMaRT station collects trash and recycling materials from many (affluent and not so affluent) communities in the Santa Clara Valley. Trying to pin your guilt trip attitude on Palo Alto rings very hollow.

Posted by Angry mom, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 30, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I just received a letter from zero waste program saying our neighborhood has been selected for the pilot program.

To members of the City council (if you guys are reading this):

I am NOT going to sort food scraps/non-recyclable trash. (Both my husband and I work full time. If I have spare time, I would rather spend it with my husband and kid, rather than going through trash cans). If you eliminate the black cart, everything is going right into the blue cart.

Posted by Shelly Fox, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 24, 2014 at 7:25 pm

I am often visiting my family who live in the house I grew up in in Palo Alto.
Knowing what I know about Palo Alto and its energy conservation and environmental safeguards I am super surprised that food scraps cannot be placed in the green bin with yard clippings. I am from Albany, Ca. and every ounce of our food scraps go in our green container.

Does Palo Alto have plans to do so? When I searched the internet it seemed like there was at one time a pilot program What happened?

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